Innocent man released: Bobby Johnson Released
Published: September 8, 2015
Innocent man released: Bobby Johnson Released, Bobby Johnson’s first act upon being released from prison for a murder he didn’t commit: throw on a change of clothes.
Johnson, who was charged at the age of 16 with killing 70-year-old Herbert Fields in Newhallville on Aug. 1, 2006, appeared Friday in Superior Court on Church Street, where Judge Patrick Clifford vacated the verdict and dismissed all charges against him.
His sister Erika Harrison ran to Foot Locker and got him a pair of jeans, sneakers and a white T-shirt.
“I didn’t want him to come out with the same clothes he came in with,” she said.
But the pants were too big. Harrison had estimated incorrectly; she had last seen her brother outside of prison when he was 16 years old and 50 pounds lighter.
Johnson borrowed a belt from one of his brothers and stopped on his walk away from the courthouse to loop it through his pants.
“He doesn’t like wearing his pants sagging,” his mother Angela Johnson said, with a laugh.
Johnson served nine years of a 38-year sentence at Cheshire Correctional Institution, framed for murder by corrupt police.
New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington moved to vacate the guilty verdict in court Friday, a result of his office’s investigation into new evidence presented into the case.
Dearington argued in court Friday for a nolle, instead of a dismissal, which means the case could be reopened if new evidence emerged. With the help of the Connecticut Innocence Project, Johnson’s attorney Ken Rosenthal argued and won the case for outright dismissal.
“All of these facts that pointed to his innocence and the guilt of others were known. In addition to that, the police knew by 2007, that the chief interrogating detective in the case had fabricated documents falsely accusing Bobby Johnson and others of things,” Rosenthal said outside the courthouse after the dismissal. “The confessions, which were the only evidence against Bobby Johnson, were inconsistent with the eyewitness accounts, with the forensic accounts and all that.”
There’s a lot of pressure to solve a case like this, leading to a “tunnel vision process” that traps innocent people, he said. “As soon as they locked into him as a potential candidate … they convinced themselves that they had their man.”
In the courtroom, Susan Troxler, the daughter of the murdered victim, said she was “really happy” that Johnson had been released. But, she said, “I feel I will never have any closure.”
“A Different World”
The first food Johnson ate after his release was a handful of sweet, sticky kettle corn, donated by local vendor Reggie Simms of Elm City Kettle Corn. Johnson handed some of the popcorn to his little sisters, who danced around his legs in circles.
Talking to press outside of the courthouse Friday, Johnson was flanked by his enormous family and many friends. He said he was overwhelmed by emotion. “It was amazing. I didn’t know how to respond to it. It’s crazy. I’m still trying to grasp everything now. It’s crazy. Oh, man. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful,” he said.
One of the first things he plans to do outside of jail is spend time with his family of 11 siblings and numerous cousins—who wore matching shirts that read “Justice For My Bro” or “Justice For My Son.”
“They’re crazy people,” he said affectionately, and they all giggled. “I don’t think I know everybody.”
Mom Angela Johnson said he hadn’t seen four of his siblings—three sisters and a brother—until Friday. Other siblings were babies the last time he saw them. Bobby Johnson will live with one of his aunts.
His cousin LaJamia Banks prompted him to list his accomplishments while he was locked up. “I got my GED,” he said. “I did a business education class. I have an appetite for reading and learning things.” He said he also learned to “control my attitude and emotions,” which is a key skill for the outside.
Banks (pictured standing at right next to Angela Johnson) said she wants people to know that her cousin wasn’t just “sitting there in prison.” He was learning skills he could apply to the real world. “A lot of people go to prison and they’re stuck in the same place,” she said.
The older inmates in prison took Johnson under their wing. “A couple of people put me in my place,” he said. “A lot of good people that put me in my place basically. They was in a similar situation and been down a lot longer than me, 20 years, 30 years. You know, they’d been where I was going, so they pushed me. And that was a great motivator.”
He said he was angry at the beginning, but as he made progress with his life, “the anger kind of died down.”
3 Go Free
Johnson is one of three black New Haven men convicted of murder and then released from prison since February 2014, because police mishandled their cases. Darcy McGraw, director of the Connecticut Innocence Project, said she plans to bring Johnson in touch with the other two men—Stefon Morant and Scott Lewis, both framed for a 1990 double murder by a crooked detective involved in the cocaine trade.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” McGraw said of Johnson. He can respond “no,” when asked if he has ever been arrested and convicted of a crime. Though he has a limited skillset, he is a “bright kid, willing to work.”
Most of his friends now are still inside prison, which will be a challenge, McGraw said. But his large supportive family is a definite boon.
Johnson said he wasn’t sure what he do outside of prison. “I was a child coming in so I don’t even know what I’m really good at. Being in there is a different world from out here, so I’ll have to let the process speak for itself,” he said.
“I hope that my situation opens up the doors for a lot of people. There are a lot of innocent people in there and I just hope that we can make everything happen for them, too,” Johnson said.
Police had all of the evidence proving Johnson innocent in 2006, Rosenthal said. That evidence included:
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